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  • Dori Nissenson

Let's Get Smart!

Do you need a reason to motivate yourself to exercise more than you already do or to exercise at all???? If you do, then here it is….

Researchers have known for decades that aerobic exercise is good for the human brain and has positive effects on brain function on multiple levels ranging from the molecular level to the behavioral level.

What this means is that exercise can actually make you smarter.

Scientists at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School have focused their studies on a molecule released during exercise that has been proven to improve cognition and protect the brain against degeneration. In fact, another study conducted at the University of Georgia, showed that even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.

Essentially, exercise changes the brain in ways that preserve memory and thinking skills.

How Does Exercise Improve Your Brain Functions?

  • Endurance exercise increases your blood flow.

  • This increased blood flow causes an increase in the production of irisin, which is a molecule in the blood that has neuroprotective effects and is heavily involved in learning and memory.

  • Increased levels of irisin then causes an increased expression of a protein called BDNF.

  • BDNF stimulates the growth of new brain tissue.

  • Irisin and BDNF are both responsible for making your brain tissue stronger.

  • The primary hormone triggered during stress or degeneration of brain tissue is cortisol. Endurance exercise has been proven to promote growth of new brain tissue by increasing BDNF and lowering levels of cortisol. In this way, exercise not only helps with learning and memory (effects of BDNF), but endurance exercise causes anti-depressant "like" effects because it causes a decrease in levels of cortisol.

How Does Exercise Make You Smarter?

  1. Exercise Increases Energy: 15 minutes of moving around will make your body produce more energy on a cellular level. Regular physical activity improves your muscle strength and boosts your endurance, giving you the energy to think more clearly and come up with new ideas.

  2. Exercise Sharpens Focus: It has been shown that exercise improves your brain in the short term by raising your focus for two or three hours. In the long term, exercise can help delay brain aging and the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.

  3. Exercise Enhances Your Mood: Exercise releases endorphins, also known as nature’s mood elevator, which have been shown to improve memory. Exercise also releases serotonin which improves mood and alleviates symptoms of depression.

  4. Exercise Helps Impulse Control: Exercise helps trigger endorphins which improve the prioritizing functions of the brain. Exercise improves your ability to block out distractions, prioritize, and concentrate on tasks at hand.

  5. Exercise Improves Memory: Your brain remembers when your body is active. Specifically, cardio-vascular exercise (not weight training), improves memory over weight training.

  6. Exercise Increases Productivity: Studies have shown that after exercising in the middle of the day, workers are more likely to be kinder to their co-workers, increase their work performance and improve their time management.

Tips For Choosing The Right Exercise To Make You Smarter!

  1. Any exercise that is good for your heart is good for your brain.

  2. Aerobic exercise not only improves brain function, but it acts to repair damaged brain cells.

  3. Exercising in the morning spikes brain activity and prepares you for the mental stresses of the rest of the day. It also increases retention of new information and helps you react better to complex situations.

  4. Exercise that incorporates/requires some coordination (dance class, aerobic class with routines) enhances brain activity and new brain tissue growth.

  5. Circuit workouts are best when you have little time because they quickly spike your heart rate which increases blood flow to the brain. Circuit workouts also require coordination and memory which place demands on your brain and therefore improve brain function.

  6. When you feel mentally exhausted, try doing some jumping jacks to re-charge your brain!

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